When People Don’t Like Christmas

Halloween has been over for a little under three weeks, and like clockwork, half the population is already decorating trees, shopping for gifts, and singing carols. It’s almost as if Thanksgiving isn’t even a holiday anymore, but rather a mile marker leading up to the alleged “most wonderful day of the year.”

I’m not going to criticize people who love Christmas, especially when these last few years have been incredibly rough for most everyone, and I don’t think it’s right to slam people for whatever brings them joy.

That being said, I’ve realized that whenever I try to explain to someone that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas — or any holiday for that matter — they look at me as if I’m admitting to being a serial killer.

I’ve written about my lukewarm feelings towards Christmas plenty of times in the past, and while I do always manage to conjure up some holiday spirit for a few days, I simply can’t get on board with the weeks upon weeks of Jingle Bells, festive lights, and organizing gifts for everyone from the mail carrier and the dog groomer to your great aunt once removed who lives 1500 miles away and you see once every seven years.

I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting my complicated feelings towards (most all) holidays over the last few years, and while I initially thought that there had to be something deeply wrong with me to not get all wide-eyed over fireworks, huge family meals, and giftwrap, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m certainly not alone in this arena.

Many people struggle with complex emotions when it comes to holiday — whether it’s a birthday, Memorial Day barbecue, or celebrating a parent on Mother’s or Father’s Day. While it’s “normal” (or more socially acceptable) to look forward to these occasions with excitement and love, many people voice their own trepidations about holidays if you really take the time to break down the ins and outs of such occasions.

This topic has been on my mind earlier and perhaps more often than usual, because as I type this, something pretty huge is pending in my life. I don’t want to “jinx” anything right now by giving too many details, but I can definitely tell you that holidays will most certainly be on the back burner in more ways than one this year.

I’ve jotted down some reasons and observations to help those “Buddy the Elf” people understand why us “Grinch” people might not be super enthusiastic about the Christmas season:

  • Holidays are Stressful!
    No matter how well you plan, budget, or self-care, adding all the gift shopping, present-wrapping, extra spending, extra cooking/cleaning, eating, social gathering, and decorating is enough take over your life. For someone with any kind of anxiety who struggles to stay grounded on a random Thursday in March, throwing holiday madness into the mix can be downright intolerable. Sometimes avoiding the whole song and dance is easier and more enjoyable for a person with mental (or even physical) health issues.
  • Some People Struggle with Finances
    Again, regardless of how well you budget or plan, holidays can be a huge financial strain. Even if you’re not buying everyone on your list brand new iPads, small gifts add up fast. And even the always-popular suggestion of “homemade gifts” like cookies and ornaments can cost plenty of cash — you need supplies to concoct those DIY trinkets.
    On a personal level, while I’ve had a steady job over the last several years and don’t have trouble paying my bills or buying food, balancing a budget every December is rather tough for me. Both my mom and husband have birthdays in December, and both of my cars inspections are due. Talk about a juggling act!
    Even if you think a person has a nice home, car, and clothes, that doesn’t mean they didn’t just stumble onto some other financial burden that makes gift-giving and charitable donations seem impossible. If someone declines to participate in a secret Santa exchange or a company fundraiser, try to respect their privacy and not make the assumption that they’re selfish or anti-social.
  • Religion
    No matter which holiday you celebrate or which reason you choose to celebrate that particular event/miracle/person, most holidays have religious roots. In a world where religious differences have been the basis of endless violence, wars, and death, it’s understandable why someone might shy away from any association with religion. Even in 2021 people in the United States of America are still criticized for their beliefs or lack thereof on a regular basis. Some people may be embarrassed or even afraid to publicly celebrate their beliefs, and others may be struggling to figure out what exactly they believe or what, if anything, they should celebrate. Whether you’re an Orthodox Jew, devout Christian, optimistic agnostic, or downright atheist, please respect other peoples’ freedoms when it comes to celebrating whatever holiday they choose — or not.
  • Painful Memories
    It’s a terrifying idea to fathom, but sometimes awful things happen on or around holidays. A friend of mine had a house fire a few weeks before Christmas several years ago, and my father-in-law had a fatal heart attack on the night of December 25th, 2008. Needless to say, it took my husband and mother-in-law YEARS before they felt like they could celebrate Christmas again at all.
    If I’ve experienced painful memories like these, I’m sure plenty of other people have had similar misfortunes, and unless you’ve been through something similar yourself, it’s hard to understand how someone could feel so awful when everyone else seems so happy.
  • Family Issues
    Not everyone’s family is picture perfect. Not everyone’s relationship with their parents, siblings, or cousins is stress-free and uncomplicated. While the holiday season is typically viewed as a time to put aside past differences, this isn’t always an option. Sometimes family members can be toxic or downright abusive and cruel, and no one should have to tolerate that regardless of the date on the calendar. If someone chooses to skip a holiday meal or get together because a toxic person will be present, respect their boundaries without judgment.
  • Jobs
    Like it or not, there are many companies out there who require their employees to work 24/7 — including through holidays. My husband works at a hospital, and while his newest position gives him the freedom of being off on federal holidays, in the past he’s had to work an occasional Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, etc. My sister also works 3rd shift for a company that never shuts down regardless of the time or day, and she’s missed out on plenty of special occasions. And don’t forget the people doing the thankless work that is the apparent economical backbone of the holiday season — retail employees, bakers, cooks, hotel and banquet staff, etc. Most of these people are working long hours for little money, leaving next to no time for them to enjoy the holidays or see their families.
    I personally remember working at Hallmark in the early 2000s after high school and spending 10 and 12 hour days on my feet, moving at a million miles an hour while customers degraded me and my coworkers for running out of an ornament or certain color tissue paper. I remember sitting in the stock room at the end of the night, desperately trying to help my manager balance the registers while the clock ticked closer and closer to midnight — then having to come in early the next morning to do it all again.
    If you’ve ever worked retail or customer service during a holiday season, it’s easy to see how quickly someone can become bitter about this time of year.
  • Mental or Physical Health Disorders
    I touched on this briefly in reason number one — and if you’ve been fortunate enough to never experience how an anxiety attack, injury, or chronic health issue can upend any plans, especially big ones like holidays — count your blessings. Many times dealing with any kind of ailment, whether it be physical or mental, can drain all of your energy and make the thought of getting dressed, making a side dish, and arriving with prettily-wrapped gifts overwhelming daunting. If someone ducks out of an event early or sends their regrets at all due to an illness, again please respect their privacy and just send good healing wishes.

As I look back over this comprehensive list, it strikes me as interesting that the hardest part about not being gaga over the holidays is other peoples’ reactions to such an outlook. People seem to take it personally if someone declines an invitation or chooses not to bake 40 dozen cookies for strangers. Over the years I’ve found that most of those people who claim to love the holidays because it celebrates hope and goodwill immediately chastise those who don’t necessarily see this alleged “season of giving” in action.

So is it any wonder that people like me grow weary or even suspicious of the “in your face” celebrations?

Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely beautiful memories of the holidays from my childhood and teen years — sled riding in an old-fashioned toboggan with my cousins, curling up around the fireplace in my grandparents’ basement, venturing into the country to cut down a fresh Christmas tree, thirty people gathering for dinner. And every year I enjoy decorating, exchanging a few gifts with close relatives, and watching Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Grinch, and Home Alone. For a week or two. Before and after that I’m ready to move on and enjoy normal life.

And what’s wrong with that?

The Light

All images courtesy of Lavender Leigh Photography

Many moons ago, I mentioned in one of my previous blogs that someday I’d tell you about mine and J’s wedding day.
Since the primary focus of this blog is mental health, it took me awhile to figure out how to fit a wedding into that theme. But in a random conversation today with a coworker, I realized that back in 2013, when much of my life was in turmoil (my job(s), where we’d live, our finances, my self care), our wedding was one of the only things that I remained excited about. Now, looking back eight years later, September 28, 2013 stands out as a bright light in an otherwise very chaotic time.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a very fancy girl. I didn’t want a ballgown with a corset, I didn’t want sky-high heels, and I wasn’t going to force my bridesmaids to spend $400 on accessories or wear a god awful dress. J pretty much felt the same, so we decided that our wedding day would truly be about celebrating the two of us with 300 of our closest friends and family, and we set to work creating a day that we’d love.

Despite trends, despite naysayers, and despite “proper etiquette,” we spent nearly two years building the wedding we wanted. Our ceremony took place in an old theater, I wore sparkly sandals under my dress, J & the groomsmen had boutonnieres featuring Nintendo characters, and our reception was at a fire hall. While I wasn’t initially a fan of “theme” weddings, we did add some Penguin hockey touches, considering our friends set us up on a blind date back in 2008 because we both loved Pittsburgh’s NHL team.

Even though the months and weeks leading up to the wedding had been a roller coaster ride of emotions, I somehow managed to sleep beautifully the night before. Getting my hair and makeup done went smoothly, as did arriving at the theater to get dressed with my bridesmaids and mom. The photographers showed up on time, my dress fit perfectly, and I wasn’t even nervous while I was waiting to walk down the aisle.
Then, right before my dad and I made our entrance, a fire alarm went off in the lobby. I burst out laughing as an employee raced to silence it, and by some miracle our guests didn’t hear a thing over the music. The quick ceremony went off without a hitch, and we drove to a nearby park to have our photos taken.

There, one of my bridesmaids was really upset that she’d left her bouquet back at the theater. She was nearly in tears, apologizing for “ruining” my pictures. I shrugged it off and we carried on without flowers. No big deal at all.
We had a lot of fun with our photographers, posing formally and funnily, and I have a ton of images to remind me of that day.
Afterwards we headed to the reception hall where we entered to thunderous cheers and applause, and immediately shared our first dance. As Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love flowed from the speakers, tears of happiness leaked from my eyes. I simply could not believe that we were finally married!

The rest of the evening sped by –J’s best man gave a tear-jerker of a speech, I danced with my dad, J & I (lightly) smashed cake in each other’s faces, my sister & maid of honor caught my bouquet. We participated in the dreaded “bridal dance,” an (apparently controversial) tradition very near and dear to my Slavish roots. My dad swung my mom around the dance floor to Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, & nearly everyone was bumping and grinding to Macklemore. Our guests signed our custom Penguins jersey/guest book and munched on cookies from the famous Pittsburgh cookie table tradition. I remember that there were multiple points during the night where I was so overwhelmed at the amount of people who had traveled from out of state that I burst into tears just seeing their faces. I was so touched that family and friends had traveled so far just for J & I that I couldn’t contain my emotions.

Far too soon, the last song of the night was playing. Our last remaining guests joined us one final time on the dance floor as we cherished the final few minutes of our wedding day.

Afterwards, J & I piled into his Chevy Equinox with our gifts and cards and headed to a nearby Hampton Inn. We were exhausted and sweaty and our feet were killing us, but we were so completely happy. Our wedding was truly one of the best days of both of our lives, and I am so thankful we have such happy memories of that day.

Eight years later, if I had to give any advice to an anxious bride (or groom!) I would say this — stay true to yourselves. Your wedding day is truly the only day that is 100% about the two of you, so take advantage of it! If you like an off the wall idea, use it! If you loathe a particular tradition, scrap it!
If you can’t afford something, get creative with alternatives.
Don’t ask for too many other peoples’ opinions — you’ll get confused and overwhelmed.
Don’t worry about stuff you can’t control. I promise it is NOT the end of the world if your bridesmaids’ shoes don’t match or if someone wears camo pants to the reception.
Go with the flow. Things are going to go “wrong.” But take a breath. Re-center. Go with it. Enjoy yourself!
Pause multiple times throughout the day. It really does go soooooo fast. Take a moment as often as you can to imprint memories in your mind.
Bring (non-messy) snacks! It’s usually several hours between breakfast and dinner.
Make it a priority to eat dinner at your own reception!
Wear comfortable shoes (or bring a back up pair).
HAVE FUN!!

Hope you enjoyed hearing about our wedding day, and hope the pictures made you smile. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, tell them to check out my other earlier posts with more wedding advice —

Five Details of Your Wedding Day You Don’t Need to Stress Over

6 More Things Not to Worry About on Your Wedding Day



Please Continue to Hold


I know, I know — I’ve been a bad writer.

I’ve been inconsistent. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Lazy even. Instead of tearing myself away from Netflix or reading to focus on writing for even half an hour a day, I’ve allowed myself to be lax. Or maybe relax?

I can’t believe it’s been four months since I’ve posted a blog. Sometimes it feels like it’s been a year. And while I haven’t been doing nearly as much writing as I did during the height of COVID (round 1?) in 2020, I’ve still been puttering about here and there.

Short projects have kind of been at a stand still, but I did work up the nerve to send my latest manuscript, Ocracoke’s Daughter, to its first beta reader, and the feedback was both helpful and incredibly positive. I’m up to four rejections from agents on The Month of May, but two of them included personal messages which were quite encouraging.

I have a few ideas floating around in my mind, but I’m finding it hard to form complete storylines and my attention span has recently become similar to that of a 12 week old puppy. At first I was beating myself up, thinking about all those writer message boards and Facebook groups where it talked about what a terrible person/writer you are if you go twelve hours without writing 5000 words — namely, that you’re clearly not devoted enough to your craft.

But enough with that bull shit. While I completely understand the mindset behind discipline and dedication, I also understand that those of us who are not full time writers yet — and even those of us who are — need to make concessions for ourselves. We are only recently learning the effects of “burn out culture,” and in addition to acknowledging the need to rest and reset, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that the world is (still) experiencing unprecedented circumstances right now. It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling on different levels.

A year and a half into the pandemic, everything is still uncertain. How much longer will this last? Are we wearing masks or not? Do we send our children to school or maintain virtual learning? Is it okay to require vaccines or ask if one is vaccinated? What are my chances of contracting the Delta variant if I’ve been vaccinated? Is it okay to hug people? Shake hands? Is it okay that I traveled out of state in June? Will I ever get to visit my friends in Holland? Is COVID going to haunt me for the rest of my life?

Among all of these internal struggles, we can’t escape the very real controversies that each of these questions evoke online, on social media, in person, and on the news. It is exhausting to say the least, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to be absolutely, 100% OVER IT on every level.

I was talking to my therapist about this a few weeks ago — I’m so completely tired of waiting for things to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I’m so tired of waiting for it to be okay to travel, to have a party, to not panic every time I have a scratchy throat. I’m tired of the judgement, the arguments, the insults, the uncertainty. I’m tired of how this is effecting people, our hospitals, our economy, employment, our government. I’m tired of not going anywhere further than work and my own backyard. I’m tired of dreaming about “some day.”

Yet I cannot summon the energy to do much of anything. I get short bursts of inspiration to write, and that burst may last a few days, but it putters out as quickly as it came on. J and I have started half a dozen projects in an effort to ready our house for sale . . . at some point . . . but most of them are half finished. We can’t even take our dogs to the park or on day trips right now because Kitty was diagnosed with heart worm back in May and excessive exercise is absolutely no bueno. (She’s doing well so far, and I’m grateful that Heart Guard is paying for her treatment considering she’s been on their preventative the entire time we’ve had her, but I’m nervous about her wellbeing all the time and I am not looking forward to the second round of injections she has to endure at the end of August. Positive vibes for us and our sweet girl are greatly appreciated).

J and I talk about moving all the time. We desperately need a change and more space. We are beyond annoyed with our irresponsible, inconsiderate neighbors and we’re on the same page when it comes to wanting to sell. But the market is so unstable and unpredictable right now. Some days we want to take advantage of the seller’s market and get as much as we possibly can for our current house while there’s this much equity in it. But on the other hand, we don’t want to pay too much for any new house, regardless of how perfect it may be. And I can’t help but worry that the housing market bubble is going to burst at some point like it did back in 2009.

So here we are. Still waiting. Still holding. Still unsure. Itching to make a move, to feel safe, to feel confident, to feel normal . . . and still waiting.

I’m going to try to be more disciplined about my writing, including blogging. There are a few things on my mind that I’ve got to get out, even if it’s just to the handful of readers on Word Press. And since it doesn’t seem like in person conferences or writing events are going to return any time soon, it might be the best option for connecting with other writers. At the very least, I suppose it’s a place where I can unload my thoughts and worries.

When I started this post, I was hoping to have some sort of revelation about my mindset and the state of things in our world, but instead I’m just pausing every few sentences, picking at my cuticles and stare out the window at the hazy, humid day. Out of the corner of my eye I spot my empty curio cabinet, the one now void of Wizard of Oz treasures that I sold in an effort to clear out clutter in preparation for moving. Across the room is a cluster of plants I just watered this morning — an aloe plant sprawling from its yellow pot, situated peacefully behind an unidentified vine that has succeeded in crawling all the way across the floor to the other side of the dining room. There are two tiny succulent plants next to a tall, spindly tree whose leaves shadow a mason jar decorated in colorful letters. The thick glass shelters a dozen or so multi-colored notecards, each one folded to hide the word scrawled across it — Alaska, Chicago, Toronto, Ireland, San Francisco, Maine, — places J & and I want to see someday.

Someday.

Where’d Ya Go, Quirky?

Well hello, Internet friends. I’m still here, plugging along as usual. I realize that I’ve been sort of neglecting my blog over the past few weeks but it’s never far from my mind. To be honest, I’m in a bit of a writing funk at the moment. I recently added to my list of published works by being featured in Macro Mag’s “Pets” issue but all other projects are kind of at a stand still and I’m not sure why.

I’ve queried 7 or 8 agents for WIP #1, The Month of May, and although the first rejection I received was incredibly kind and encouraging, I haven’t gotten any other responses yet. If I don’t hear anything by mid-summer I’m thinking that I’ll have to re-examine my query letter and/or the first twenty pages of my manuscript and, well, I’d almost rather go to the dentist than even think about starting that project . . . again.

For WIP #2, Ocracoke’s Daughter, I’ve hit the 103,000 word mark on my second draft and I only have one chapter left to write, but I am riding the struggle bus with this one. I know exactly how I want it to end, but for some reason it’s stuck inside me and doesn’t want to come out. Maybe I’m having trouble channeling the beach and Ocracoke Island. Maybe I’m paranoid about the length, even though I figured it would run long considering it’s a dual timeline piece with a historical subplot. Maybe I’m overly concerned with the quality of my research when it comes to adoption and suppression of conservative religions. Maybe I’m worried about how agents/publishers/historians will view my fairy tale version of the infamous Blackbeard. Maybe I’m dreading the beta reading process. Or maybe I just can’t stop daydreaming about this handsome gent who played Edward Teach in Netflix’s Lost Pirate Kingdom. Fluttery sigh.

As far as my other writing projects go, I’m trying to write a moving piece for HerStry’s monthly feature, Friendship, but it’s falling really flat and I don’t think it’s going to be ready for submission by the end of the month. HerStry is responsible for giving me one of my first publishing credits and I love their vibe and message, and would really like to have more of my work featured by them, but no luck so far.
I’m also still slowly hacking away at the idea of my Pittsburgh-based travel blog, and while I’ve gotten a lot of drafts written, the thought of launching and maintaining another blog/website is overwhelming. I frequently refer to myself as “The Most Technologically Inept Millennial on the Planet,” and the mere thought of stating another big project gives me instant anxiety. The thing bugging me the most about this is the fact that I think it would be a really good time to launch such a blog, considering COVID is (hopefully) on its way out over the next year and I’m sure people are going to be itching for new and exciting adventures. Exasperated sigh.

Personally, things are moving along with a little bit more hope than I anticipated having, considering the state of the world. My 9-5 is still stressful and incredibly busy, but I recently made a (lateral) move from CSR to the title department, and although much of the new job is intimidating, I’m enjoying doing something new and have gotten some good feedback about my work. So there’s that.

I also received my first COVID vaccine at the end of March, and will get my second one at the end of April. I won’t lie – I’m pretty nervous, considering I was sick for three days after the first one. I had horrible chills, was absolutely exhausted, and really achy. Then I developed a lump near my collarbone which scared the living shit out of me, only to discover that per the Internet, my doctor, and several friends, swollen lymph nodes are a relatively common side effect of the vaccine. Who knew?
As nervous as I am about the second one, I certainly don’t want to get COVID again. Having it once was enough, and even being partially vaccinated has already given me some peace of mind.

On the home front, J and I are talking more and more about fixing our house up to sell and we’ve been looking at new houses and other neighborhoods frequently. This is definitely exciting but we have sooooooo much to do with our house first — replacing the kitchen floor, painting the foundation, painting the fence, painting the garage, cleaning out the basement, cleaning out the attic, etc. Last weekend I spent a few hours cleaning out my curio cabinet and a small corner of our attic where my Wizard of Oz collection has been gathering dust for nearly a decade. I posted 24 items on Facebook Marketplace and had over thirty offers on all of the items in less than 24 hours. I made some quick cash over the course of a few days, which I plan to put towards buying paint and such for the house, but HOLY SHIT sorting through all those offers and arranging meet ups with buyers was like having a second job! Hopefully when we start to clean out the rest of the house we can sell other items just as successfully.
We’re really excited about the fact that our house is now worth almost double than what we paid for it in 2013, but this is also intimidating on the buying side, especially considering so many houses around here are selling in a matter of HOURS. So fingers crossed that this process goes smoothly for us, whenever it ends up happening.

In addition to moving, I’m also looking forward to a girls’ weekend I have planned with my two best friends in June. We’ll be celebrating 25 years of friendship and I’m really glad that the three of us will be able to get together amid our crazy schedules and the pandemic. All three of us will be vaccinated by then, and although we’re not going anywhere exotic or glamorous, it’ll be nice to get away for a few days.

Despite my current writing funk, it’s good to be able to post a blog that’s mildly hopeful. I know we have a long way to go with the pandemic, and there are so many other horrible things going on in our world, but I’m trying to be extra thankful for the little things, and I have to say this spring feels much more positive than last spring.

Here’s to sunny skies!

More Coping Mechanisms for Panic Attacks

Like most people, the last 10-12 months have tested my mental health. Even before I contracted COVID the last week of 2020, there were a lot of moments where I was sobbing, borderline hysterical, barely able to get out of bed, and feeling like all the progress I’d made with my anxiety over the last few years had gone out the window.

While I was able to see my therapist on a regular basis thanks to Zoom, there were a few times that I had to employ the help of friends, family, the Internet, and my own creativity to claw my way back to some semblance of calm.

So today, I’m sharing the new tips, tools, & techniques I learned in a year that has been rough on all of us.

Relaxing Music
This is a tool that can be used almost anywhere — at home, lying in bed, driving, or even (for most people) at work. When I need something to bring me down a notch, I pull up the Pandora app on my phone and tune into a station that makes me feel like I’m at a spa or on a relaxing vacation. I highly recommend the following stations:
* Instrumental Chill Radio
* Classical Relaxation Radio
* Happiest Tunes on Earth

Mantras
One of the most important things I learned doing EMDR therapy is to have a positive mantra to replace a negative thought or belief. My two favorites —
* I am safe. I am calm. I am quiet. (when I’m at work or trying to concentrate on something, I change the last part to “I am focused.”)
* This too shall pass or this is only temporary. Whether the source of my anxiety is a stressful issue at work or the fact that we’re nearly a year into a global pandemic, it helps to remind myself that nothing is permanent.

Cold Water & Body Tensing
If, like me, you sometimes experience the physical effects of a panic attack without your mind actually spiraling out of control, you know how absolutely infuriating this can be. Your heart is racing, your hands are shaking, and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat — but you can’t pinpoint why exactly it’s happening. My sister said she heard this once described as “when you’re playing a video game and you hear the music warning you that ‘the boss’ is coming, but he never actually shows up.” Truer words.
In these cases, I like to do one of the following:
* Run my hands and wrists under cold water for 60 – 120 seconds. The cold sensation refocus your energy and attention to something palpable instead of something abstract.
* Tense every muscle in my body for 30 – 60 seconds (or as long as you can hold it), then slowly release each muscle, one area at a time (your toes, your legs, your torso, your arms, etc). This apparently tricks your body into thinking you’ve just “fought” something (the panic attack), and it works to calm itself down once you begin to “let loose.”

Living in the Moment
Typically I loathe this term. Of course I want to live in the moment, but my mind doesn’t allow me to. That’s why I have anxiety. But this time I mean it quite literally. If my mind is racing out of control about something, I have to throw all of my concentration into exactly what I’m doing at that moment. This literally means forcing my thoughts in this pattern: I’m turning on the faucet. I’m testing the water temperature. I’m undressing. I’m stepping into the shower. I’m wetting my hair. I’m shampooing my hair.
I’m unlocking my car door. I’m putting on my seatbelt. I’m starting the ignition.
I’m walking into the office. I’m sitting down at my desk. I’m typing in my password. Etc, etc.

Sometimes my anxiety gets so out of control I have to deliberately remind my brain to focus on menial tasks in order to get the panic monster to stop roaring so loudly.

Five Things
This is a helpful tool that I read about somewhere that helps me fall asleep most nights and also helps me peel myself out of bed on those days when depression rears its ugly head and I can’t find anything to look forward to or work towards. Usually I just recite the thoughts in my head, but it can also be helpful to write them down.
5 Things I’m Grateful for & 5 Things I Want
Sometimes I’m grateful for something as simple as my bed and my favorite hoodie. Sometimes all I want is to find the courage to leave the house or the energy to make dinner.
Other times I’m grateful for more monumental things and I dare to dream about traveling the world and making a shit ton of money with my writing.
Either way, compiling these lists and reciting or reading each item several times is a sure way to calm your mind and distract it from becoming a run away train of doom.

These days, we’re all looking for ways to chase away the demons clouding out vision and messing with our minds. I hope some of these methods help you out, and feel free to share any tips if you learned something new during this bizarre period in history.





A Friday in January

I am working at my company’s small sublot for a few days, and on Friday the twenty-something yard employee who opens the gates is running a little late. He apologizes profusely, then tells me to forgive him if he seems a bit “off” today. His friend from high school was killed last night, so he’s understandably emotional. I offer my own shocked condolences, and he manages to give a few sparse details about their friendship and history before the tears he’s been holding back begin to flow. Male tears have always had the power to undo me, and COVID be damned, I rush over to wrap him in a friendly hug. There is no one else around to comfort him, and I cannot stand idly by as his grief overflows. He regains his composure and thanks me, and we turn to the demands of our jobs.

Hours later, I take my lunch break and wonder how he’s managing. I distract myself with Facebook, where I stumble upon an article about how the lack of physical touch over this last year is wreaking havoc with our mental health. I become teary-eyed near the end, thinking not only of my hug with my coworker this morning, but of the scores of people dealing with what may be the most difficult and bizarre period we’ve ever encountered.

I continue scrolling through my feed, trying to focus on positive posts. I smile when I see one wishing my favorite composer, Mozart, a happy birthday. There is a video to go along with the post, one I’ve seen a dozen times before, of opera singer Diana Damrau expertly nailing the Queen of the Night aria. This stunning and exceptionally difficult piece always makes my heart flutter happily, but today it shatters me.

Tears of my own grief and despair pour over my cheeks as I watch the artists on stage, and suddenly I am painfully aware of just how long it’s been since I sat in a darkened auditorium absorbing culture and theatrics and feeling the rush of human interaction and our shared passion for the arts. And then I am sobbing for everything.

I cry out of frustration for the linger, all-encompassing fatigue that COVID has left in my body, and I cry out of fear that the virus will have some future negative effects on mine or my husband’s health. I cry because it’s been nearly a year since I’ve swum laps or splashed and laughed with other women as we aqua-Zumba our way across the pool to Bruno Mars and Ricky Martin. I cry for the restaurants and small businesses, the non-profits and schools, the students and teachers, the nurses and travel industry. I cry for my friends in Holland and the missed opportunity to visit them in The Netherlands. I cry for the unfulfilled desire to see the Van Gogh Museum, the canals, the windmills, the tulips. I cry because I just want to sit at my friends’ kitchen table, laughing and talking and catching up while we sip beer and wine and finally taste homemade Olliebolen.

When lunch is over, I force my tears to an abrupt halt in the way that women do, in order to attend to the necessities of work and life until there is another spare moment for release.

I stumble through the rest of the day as best I can in this fog of emotion and brain fuzziness and exhaustion and wonder how long the remnants of this virus will inhabit my body and mind.

At 5pm, I head to the pharmacy for prescriptions, resting my head against the steering wheel in the parking lot for 60 seconds just to gather my wits. I have not known fatigue or frustration like this since I had mono in my early twenties, but there are errands to run and a house to clean and meals to cook and dogs to attend to.

On my way home I am sitting at a red light, fighting the urge to close my eyes for only a moment, when the tears break through again. I am sobbing because I am so tired. I am sobbing because it is so cold — the bitter January air is cutting through my coat and gloves and laughing at the meager attempts of the heat in my car. I sob because it seems like spring will never, ever come. I sob because I want to exercise swim and take my dogs to the park. I sob thinking about my messy bathroom and kitchen. I sob because I want to go to a restaurant with my friends and have a glass of sangria and eat too much rich food. I sob because I miss my mom and dad and sister and friends. I sob because we still do not know when this will end.

When I finally walk through my back door, I greet my dogs and my husband. I eat a bowl of cereal for dinner, take my pills, and go upstairs to read and rest for an hour before starting laundry and making a grocery list.

But after awhile, I fold down the page in my novel, set it aside, and flick off the bedside lamp. And I sleep. And I sleep. And I sleep.

the one where i get covid

Welp, I am officially a number. On December 28th, I developed a sore throat and began feeling really, really tired. That same day, it was confirmed by our HR department that “an employee” had tested positive for COVID. Though they claimed they didn’t consider anyone at our facility to have been exposed, I immediately went online to schedule a test.

The next morning when I woke up, my sore throat felt worse, I was still EXHAUSTED, I had a headache, and the sniffles. I called off work and went to a drive-through testing site that afternoon — luckily it was just a mouth swab and not the dreaded brain tickler.
My symptoms intensified over the next few days and I developed a cough. Still, during those first three days I truly didn’t believe I had anything other than a cold. I was most definitely sick (AND I MOST DEFINITELY STAYED HOME) but I’d been sicker — like when I had mono in 2005, like when I had the flu last March, and when I had 3 sinus infections within 2 months in 2012 and had yellow junk leaking out of my eyes.

On New Year’s Day, 2021, the day when the shitstorm that was 2020 was supposed to over and done with, I woke up feeling the best I had all week. And then I got the email that my rest results were in. After a few clicks it was confirmed in bright red letters — I was POSITIVE for COVID-19.

I immediately notified my husband, parents, and sister, the only people I’d been with other than my coworkers. Then I began to panic. What if I relapsed and got worse? What if I had lingering effects? What if my family was sick? What would happen to my job?
A few hours later my husband began to exhibit symptoms and I became even more stressed out. A few days after later, HE tested positive for COVID and my guilt swelled. J was born premature and his lungs and sinuses never fully developed. He’s had pneumonia a few times as well as bronchitis. I was scared.

It’s been about two weeks for me, and I am sloooooowly starting to feel normal. My nose is still stuffy, my cough is still lingering, and I get tired really easily. Oh and I have almost NO sense of smell. For someone whose mom used to call them “dog nose” this is a really interesting new way to navigate things.

J’s symptoms are about 5 days behind mine, and while his cough seemed worse than mine and he had stomach issues, I’m hoping he’ll be on the upswing shortly. I’m not much for organized religion, but any good vibes or prayers would be appreciated.

So now my house is a disaster of epic proportion, the dogs are going nuts, and since we can’t leave these 4 walls it’s almost impossible to turn off CNN as we watch the US tumble into an even more disturbing and embarrassing example of a democracy gone wrong. And don’t even get me started on how indescribably LIVID I am about the way my workplace has (mis)handled this whole debacle.

Yay. 2021.

As I wait for my second round of test results, I’m trying so hard to keep things in perspective. I’m trying to focus on my health and my husband getting better. I’m trying to be thankful that my family didn’t get it and that J & I are generally young and healthy and should be able to beat this. I should be thankful that both of us should still have jobs after this. I should be thankful we still have a home and food on the table.

But all I can think about is what I’ve lost thanks to COVID — 80 hours of PTO. The possibility of personal days and vacations, even if they were stay-cations. Trust and faith in the system. Dreams of having a girl’s weekend with my best friends to celebrate 25 years of friendship. Traveling to Holland to see our friends that moved there in 2019. Seeing the Grand Canyon with my husband. Buying a new house in a better neighborhood.

I understand that right now so many people are focused on survival mode, and thinking about these types of luxuries might seem selfish and immature. But in the past when I’ve been struggling to get through tough times, I always try to focus on something good to look forward to. Unfortunately, right now no one knows if or when those good times will ever come around again.

I talked to my therapist yesterday and she reiterated the importance of focusing on little things, especially in the dismal winter that has consumed western Pennsylvania. We probably won’t see the sun here very often over the next few months, which only magnifies mental health issues — global pandemic, financial crises, and unstable government aside.

Sadly I feel like I have to put aside big dreams of traveling and moving right now. I have to dust off my happy light, restock my essential oils, and try to be satisfied with mundane things like chocolate cake, a (shortened) hockey season, warm towels out of the dryer, and my dogs’ adorable head tilts.

I’m trying to hard to think about better days. Sometimes that makes things easier. Sometimes it makes things harder.

Until next time, please take care. And for the love of all that is holy — WEAR A MASK.

We Have a Ghost

No, not that kind of Ghost.

Remember a few posts ago I mentioned that Kitty was getting a little brother?

Well, he’s here, and after much debate, J (and I) named him Ghost.

Ghost is about 10 months old and came from the same rescue in Texas as Kitty. We don’t know much about his story, but believe he was saved from a kill shelter. He’s part Jack Russell and possibly part Schnauzer, and only weighs about 25 lbs. And every pound of him is pure energy.

The first and only time I had a puppy was when my family adopted my first ever dog, Maggie, back when I was eleven, and I have to admit that I forgot just how energetic puppies are. Ghost is in instant play mode as soon as he opens his eyes in the morning. He’s always running, jumping, grabbing toys, and prodding at poor Miss Kitty 24/7. The two have learned to get along pretty well for the most part, but I’d be lying if I said the first few weeks weren’t tough — there was even an incident caused by a piece of rogue chicken that resulted in lots of yelping and Kitty ripping some of Ghost’s fur out — something that sent my anxiety into overdrive and had me practically hysterical. But after many conversations with doggy foster moms, friends, and our vet, I eventually realized that this wasn’t quite the horrible sign I thought.

We only had Ghost for 2 weeks before going on vacation, and that was a challenge in and of itself (more about that next time). Even though we’ve been home for nearly a month now, he still has a lot to learn. Though his potty accidents are now few and far between (knock on wood), he is most definitely getting enrolled in puppy classes as soon as one comes around that works with our schedule.

Ghost has learned to sit and give paw (adorable!) and we’re working on “come,” but he’s completely oblivious to “down” and “stay.” We also can’t seem to get him to stop jumping (and nipping) when we come home, and he is SO destructive with his toys — even ones that look indestructible for bigger dogs. J and I have tried everything we can think of — and everything fellow dog owners and the Internet recommends — but he does not respond to yelling, clapping, “AH! AH” or even bops on the nose. We’re trying to be patient and know that he’s still in his transition period, but we definitely want to correct these behaviors soon before he begins to think it’s okay to jump (and walk) all over people and completely ignore the rules.

Like most dogs (and people), Ghost is a work in progress, and the fact that he learned “give paw” in only a matter of a week or so gives us hope. Besides, he’s pretty damn cute and a big cuddle bug. The fact that he wants to cuddle up beside us all the time creates some competition and jealousy between him and Kitty, so J and I are also working to make sure that the two of them know that they are both loved equally and that no one is being ousted. In fact, we bought a king sized bed so that all 4 of us can sleep together more comfortably (hey we needed a new bed anyway). And even though he can be quite a pest towards his sister, I’m glad they have each other, especially during the day while we’re at work.

Drama aside, I’m falling more in love with this little turd every day, and it melts my heart when him and Kitty play together, run in the yard, and curl up next to each other to sleep. I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on their progress in the coming months.

And without further ado, a barrage of pictures —

Updates Available

Hello, all. I just wanted to pop in and share some updates with the blogosphere. My last post focused mostly on all the writing projects I’ve been working on recently, and I’m really proud of myself for getting so much accomplished in this dismal summer/year as far as my craft goes. I realize that my blogging hasn’t been as consistent as it once was, but of course the entire world is a dumpster fire right now so what IS ‘normal’ in 2020?

Certainly not the last few weeks of my life.

After giving the rundown of my writing projects in my last post, I felt really motivated and was looking forward to getting back on track at blogging weekly or bi-weekly. And then the universe laughed.

My mom had a mild heart attack on September 22nd. The doctors said that this kind of heart attack is very common in kidney transplant patients, and she was only in the hospital for a few days for observation and to have a stent put in before she was back home recuperating. Aside from a nasty reaction to one of her new medications, she’s doing pretty well. With her medical history, this mostly just seemed like a bump in the road, albeit a scary one, but it definitely knocked me for a loop.

J and I have also spent the last month or so becoming more annoyed and frustrated with our disrespectful neighbors and our neighborhood — so much so that we met with a family member who is a real estate agent and discussed the first few steps of selling and buying a house. While we’re more optimistic about our options, we have A LOT to do before these plans can be put into motion, so we have to bide our time for at least another 6 months. Unless we hit the lottery of course.

The BS at work exploded with MAJOR changes two weeks ago, and it’s wreaked havoc on my mental health and confidence. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that I still have a job, although nearly every single thing about the position looks differently than it had for the past six and a half years. Some days I feel really optimistic about where I’m headed at my 9-5, and other days I feel like my brain is going to leak out of my ear. I have no idea where this is going.

Our dog, Kitty, is going to be a big sister.
I temporarily lost my mind a few weeks ago and agreed to get a second dog. J and I had talked about it after Comet passed, and before we adopted Kitty, but I kept saying I wasn’t ready. But then one day J sent me a picture of an adorable pup from the same rescue organization that Kitty came from, and I started crying as soon as I saw his face. So. We’re getting a second dog. I’m excited for Kitty to have a companion, but I’ve never lived with 2 dogs before and it’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for all of us. Plus, he’s coming 2 weeks before we go on vacation . . . so we’ll have 2 dogs in the car with us on a 10+ hour drive to the beach. I’m sure there will be plenty of blog posts about this to come.

So, yeah, in the midst of all of this, I’m trying to get ready for vacation . . . without really getting ready. This trip was initially planned for May, but COVID ruined that, so we postponed until now. With the way 2020 has been going, I’ve done pretty much NOTHING to prepare for the trip, which goes against everything my type A personality believes in. Normally I’m making color-coded lists and tossing items into suitcases a month beforehand, but this time I’m trying to fly by the seat of my pants. Because again, who knows what is or isn’t going to happen at this point.
Except, you know, there’s 2 dogs going with us.

Any positive/happy vibes you could send would be appreciated.